The Creeping Hand of the State

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On March 7, 2009, during a city council meeting in Duncanville, Texas, Councilman Paul Ford stood up to protest the city's new red light cameras. He wanted to amend the city code to allow a jury trial for motorists who contested tickets issued by the cameras, and had previously clashed with the mayor, David Green, over the issue. Instead of allowing Ford to have his say, Mayor Green turned off the audio on the chamber's video recorder and ordered the police chief to remove the councilmember. Ford was dragged from the room and had to be treated for injuries sustained in the arrest.

Elsewhere in Texas , an anonymous tipster led a Solid Waste Services officer to the doors of the warehouse of the Rhizome Collective, a nonprofit organization in Austin . The warehouse had been built in 1952, but because the owners had made a few modifications to the structure, the city government demanded that the building be brought up to 2009 code specifications. Austin gave the owners one month to either sell the property, or hire contractors to assess the potential cost and apply for the permits to make repairs. Even if the permits were granted, the owners would have a mere 60 days to fix the violations or face a daunting series of fines. Members of the Rhizome Collective were forced to vacate the property after they were unable to meet the demands of the city. The collective had been a community leader in training citizens how to live sustainably and self-sufficiently in an urban environment.

Then there was the raid by Texas Child Protective Services against a community of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints members in Eldorado , Texas in April of last year. Acting on an anonymous tip that later turned out to be a hoax, Texas police raided the compound, removed all 533 children, and placed them in state custody whether or not they had anything to do with the allegations of abuse. While in their custody, the Texas CPS forced the children to submit to DNA tests, as well as physical and psychological examinations. A letter sent to the prosecutor by some of the children's mothers read, in part, 'the physical examinations were horrifying to the children. The exposure to these conditions is traumatizing.'

After all was said and done, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the FLDS children had been taken without due cause and ordered them returned to their parents. One of the abducted women, who the Texas CPS claimed to be a minor, was actually 22 years old. Half of the alleged teen mothers turned out to be adults, and at least one had never been pregnant at all.

In August 2003, the city of Balch Springs, Texas , told a group of senior citizens they weren't allowed to pray before meals or sing gospel songs at the city-owned senior center. None of the activities had been sanctioned by city employees, and the prayer had been voluntary. The seniors sued, won, and the court decision compelled the Balch Springs City Council to 'adopt a policy that will permit speakers to address center members without regard to the content or viewpoint of the address.' Imagine, being forced to recognize the fundamental right of free speech!

For a state whose residents are so adamant about loving liberty, we can see that Texas is not immune from the creeping hand of government. The aforementioned incidences are frightening examples of state power run amok, and although they all happened in Texas , they could have come from any state in the US . Luckily, two of these four examples ended with a court upholding the rights of the victims (an increasingly rare occurrence), but imagine what this government would do without that basic check on its power?

The examples of Councilman Ford, the Rhizome Collective, the FLDS raid, and the seniors in Balch Springs illustrate exactly what would happen'and what naturally happens'when the actions of government officials are not restrained. If a small town mayor has no qualms about arresting and forcibly removing a political rival over a disagreement about red light cameras, imagine what he would do if he had the power to abolish freedom of speech altogether? Can it be assumed that he would even hesitate if doing so was to his advantage?

Unfortunately, governments no longer need to directly abridge our basic liberties; they bind our ability to exercise them in bureaucratic red tape. In the case of the Rhizome Collective, the city of Austin went above and beyond subterfuge to shut down the collective. They simply made it virtually impossible for the warehouse owners to comply with their regulations.

The lesson learned from these four incidences is that anyone who is not dependent on the state, or who teaches independence to others, is a threat to the state's growing monopoly over our daily lives. Moreover, as we have seen with the raid on the FLDS, government officials will not hesitate to lie if it furthers their agenda. Anonymous calls are used to justify invading the privacy of citizens, and layers upon layers of regulations control dissent. Even city council members are subject to arrest if they speak out against something as simple as tickets issued by red light cameras without the option of a jury trial.

If unchecked, an activist state will impose itself on every area of our lives. While bureaucrats already, to some extent, tell us who we can marry and what we can do to our own property, now they want to tell us where we can pray and when we can protest. Like a thief in the night, once they gain entrance to your home, they help themselves to all inside. We must lock the door and throw away the key before it is too late.

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Michael Kleen's picture
Columns on STR: 36

Michael Kleen is the Editor-in-Chief of Untimely Meditations, publisher of Black Oak Presents, and proprietor of Black Oak Media. He holds a M.A. in History and a M.S. in Education, and is the author of Statism and its Discontents, a collection of columns on the topics of Statism, liberty, and their conflict. His columns have appeared in a variety of publications and websites, including Strike-the-Root.